The support I see #5 – Be yourself at work, on your commute and at home

Me as a member of the Tune Squad
Being myself includes a slight obsession with Michael Jordan and wearing his vests. Especially the Space Jam one
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” Neil Gaiman

The final part of this 5 part series is here, the summary – be yourself.

Facebook has as part of their vision and values ” Move Fast, Be bold, Be yourself”. I love this. Move quickly towards the goal, making bold choices as you go and be you – its the best way to be.

I believe it takes a certain personality to make a career out of support. You’ll be logical, emotionally intelligent, self disciplined, patient, attentive and so much more. You’re already in support? Well done you, you’re already a legend.

There are traits of great support people as detailed above, but the exceptional ones I’ve seen bring all of that and also themselves. They are truly themselves as they interact with the world around them. There is no pretense, just a genuine kindness and desire to help. Their interactions aren’t forced with fake smiles and cheery but insincere cries of “Well you have a good day now”. They can gauge which customers want to talk about their day a bit before the call or just crack on and they are completely comfortable either way.

In each of these posts I’ve detailed what I think makes great support. This post closes this series off with a battle cry to be you. You should definitely work on being the best version of you, with your vision and goals in mind, what do you need to develop? What do you need to work on? Just don’t feel that being you is worse than trying to be *Insert the name anyone you look up to*. Take inspiration from them of course. I’m writing this on an iMac after my friend Dan told me that Mac’s are the greatest computers about 12 years ago. I’m typing this in Evernote after Michael Hyatt recommended it for note taking and idea logging, listening to the new remastered Sgt Peppers lonely hearts club band after my year 8 music teacher played us Eleanor Rigby and I thought it was the saddest, but best song I had ever heard.

We should take inspiration from those around us and who are doing things but becoming a carbon copy isn’t the right move. Learn from people, analyse and bring it back to you and apply it if it fits.

You can give the best support by being comfortable as you.

So here ends the posts on my five steps to great support, my vision of what a support team member should be focussed on and some steps to getting there. Now we just have to go and apply it and offer the best support, it’s a great career and a great calling.

The support I see #4 -Consider your audience

Wireless keyboard

If you have worked with computers for any amount of time you have likely become the go to person for your family and friends for tech support.

The printer is broken. Can you have a look?

I’ve bought a surround sound system, can you set it up?

My MacBook is very hot and is burning my legs, can you help?

My son has put some Lego in the USB ports and broken them, can you sort it out?

Sound familiar? I love being able to help but the challenge is always when there is an ongoing action. Allow me to explain.

If I just have to fix something that’s fine, it’s done. If I then have to say “Probably best not do that again” e.g. put Lego in USB ports, I need to explain why and how.

The Lego one is easy.

“That port allows your computer to charge phones, connect to other devices – it does not supercharge Lego… I know, I wish it did too.”

What if there is a complex procedure that needs to be run repeatedly whilst you’re not around, there in lies the challenge.
“Allow me to explain… wait where are you going”
A challenge of having knowledge someone needs is to not use that knowledge in one of these ways:

– As a tool to try to elevate yourself over those who don’t know as much as you do about the issue.
– Keep the explanation as complex as possible to show how clever you are.
– Being embarrassed about your knowledge and trying to dumb what you know down (the rarest but still an issue).
– Making it so simple that you may as well be a guest lecturer on a nursery YouTube channel “Caannn you say ‘Computer’?”.

These are all bad options. So how should we explain things?

1) Work out how best your audience will understand. Was there any clues in how they asked the question? Did they give you a browser version and steps they have already attempted? These can be used as signposts as to where to start helping and the user’s knowledge.

2) As the AutoMattic creed says “I’ll remember the days before I knew everything”. I mentioned in the first post in this series, asking for help is a vulnerable place to be. If you lose sight of the fact that you had to learn this information once as well, no matter how long ago, it can show in your support. The user gets annoyed with you, you feel like you want to answer back but can’t – day spoilt. The flip side of this is humility about what you don’t know and need help on. Don’t just make up the answer, or act like it isn’t important. Learning is a skill to be used through the whole of your life.
We all had to learn at some point, and we may have needed guidance as well. Keeping this in mind will impact how you speak, how you explain and increase patience.

3) Remember the average reading age. I saw a stat the other day which said the average reading age in the UK is 9 (It is 7th to 8th grade in the US). This has to impact how we communicate with people. Our challenge when keeping this in mind is not speaking down to people when considering our word choice. We don’t need to use every ticket to show that we have a huge vocabulary. I love the English language and all the different ways people use it to express themselves, but the most impressive thing for me is when someone is able to get detailed information across using fewer, less complex words and not loose any meaning.

This post really can be summed up in always be tailoring your communications with people. What do you know about them? What extra knowledge can you take from how they have communicated with you? What are they trying to get from the interaction?

If we are constantly considering who we are speaking to and tailoring our communication in light of that our customers can only be happy.

The support I see #3 – Learn and share

Beach bonfire

This tale starts in a small town in Sussex, on a summer’s day that could only be described as perfection.

Sorry, just trying a new way to start these posts. I set the scene though right?

The year is 2013, a young(er) Kristian is sat on the beach after visiting his local library for the first time in 18 years. In those 18 years he hadn’t thought about missing the library, Amazon provides all he needs now, but as he looked back he started to remember all the things he loved. He loved that he could sit in a wooden fire engine and read Goosebumps and Horrible History books until the librarians kicked you out because they were closing. He loved the quiet and the sheer number of books, all could be his next favourite. He loved that they offered stories on tape, and also VHS videos. I wonder if mum will let me rent Terminator? No, ok then…

That’s enough of that.

The reason I started by talking about the library was that when I went back to join my local library as a 28-year-old I went straight to the business section. It was a small section but the title that jumped out was Buffett – The Biography. I had always admired the idea of Warren Buffett but knew very little about him.

Warren Buffett and rum

I went to the desk and took the book out. I walked home, grabbed a bottle of ginger beer and a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s and went to the beach. Pippa and I sat and read our books (Her choice was a Philippa Gregory novel about Tudor kings and queens). I read and read until I had been there all day.

There were so many lessons tucked away in that book. He is clearly a complex character and I don’t want to unpick all of that here. There were many things that stuck out to me about Mr Buffett. The methodical approach to investing, the lack of flashy cars, yachts etc and his passion not really being powered by money but more by success. In amongst all of these things there was one thing that really stuck with me.


It has been said that a perfect day for Warren Buffett involves uninterrupted reading. He is a learning machine, studying newspapers, books and reports all in the pursuit of understanding what his next move should be.

Warren Buffett has said the greatest investment you can make is in yourself. To always be learning something new. Warren personified this idea by taking on a public speaking course early in his career. Tony Robbins, whilst earning $40 a week spent $35 on a course, and why countless CEO’s, Presidents of the United states and people in every walk of life have invested in going on Tony’s courses (See President Clinton, Marc Benioff and Kanye West).

Learn to support

Learning in a support environment requires an intentional effort to not just solve problems but to look back at them. It is very easy to live with a firefighting mindset, dashing from one case to another. This is vital and timely support is always needed. You will definitely learn things during this time. What is vital is to carve out time in a day to look back, even if just for a few minutes. What were the themes of the things I worked on? What documentation could I have used? What documentation isn’t available to customers yet? What could I have done better?

Team leads and managers should assist with this but the wonderful feeling that comes from being in control of your learning is your responsibility. Make your own time for it and make sure it gets done.

Each interaction is an opportunity to learn, and should be seen like that. What is the customer trying to achieve? What is their business? Have I helped anyone else in this sector? Is there another way to do this? This can bring a new way to look at your job, don’t want your role to be stale? Keep learning new things.

Share, share and share some more

If the goal of great support is to always be learning an equally important goal is to be sharing that information with as many people as possible. No one likes a paranoid support person trying to guard their job.

I believe that being generous sharing and communicating the knowledge you have is the only way to be in a support team. Take part in conversations with your team mates, document (I love documentation) and offer your team access to the skills you have built, acting as a sounding board for problems.

The benefits of this far, far, far outweigh any potential risk of job security. If you do get fired for sharing information and building others you should be running away from that company anyway.

Generosity is attractive, it shows a confidence. It makes you feel like an expert and allows you to further perfect your communication skills. If you can share with a good attitude, avoiding the pitfalls of “I know more than you” *Insert smug grin here*, you are building your team, assisting customers and building you.

That feels like a win, win, win.

The support I see #2 – Kindness

“I was in the middle of one of the biggest emergencies I have had at work and the internet phone company left me on hold for 25 minutes and then cut me off.”

Support teams come in for a lot of flack. Ask someone about their interaction with a support line and oftentimes I am hit with a variation of the sentence at the top of the page or one of the following:

“The support person on southern rail Twitter just didn’t care” (Note, I think the people on this support feed have one of the hardest jobs in the world, they are the face of the train company that always runs late – look at the hate they get!)

“I try wherever possible not to speak to support, they just don’t understand what I’m trying to do”

“Calling a support line just to feel like they are enjoying lording it over me because I don’t understand is not my idea of fun”

We’ve likely all experienced bad service or support, but it makes good support all the more noticeable and glorious.

“The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Ghandi

In the last post I spoke about being passionate about customers success, this post is about being kind to customers.

The benefit for you

Today I have been experimenting with honouring people, thinking kindly about everyone. I work in a city and people are busy and are accidentally (I choose to believe…) rude. As I walked through the doors of a coffee shop today a guy in the queue scowled at the waitress when she asked him a question, when then asked for the money he held the money in between his index and middle finger and threw the money down on the counter.

I know.

He was gone before I could understand what happened. I was annoyed at how rude he was, throwing money isn’t really ever right, unless it’s over a fence to someone who needs it. Or if it’s folded in the shape of a paper aeroplane. Then it’s fine.

I heard a talk about honouring people the other day. The talk went through different types of personalities, what can be great about them and what can be difficult and how to honour them in how you think and speak about them.

I decided I would choose to think kindly about this man. I decided to think about how committed he was to his work to be in his work clothes and in the queue for coffee at 7:30am. I decided to celebrate that he was getting his coffee to get his mind in the best shape to start his day.

It could have all been nonsense, but it changed how I felt. My day did not start on irritation, it started on a win. The day has been a good one and I’m still in a good mood.

Support teams should always start by choosing to be kind and to think well of all customers. They haven’t given the right information? Celebrate the fact that they know they can reach out to you to get help. They are being rude? Celebrate the fact that you have an opportunity to make their day a little bit better by helping to remove the problem that is blocking them.

Tony Robbins talks about “Changing your expectation for gratitude” as a key of a happy life, focussing on what you do have rather than what you want. The customer support version may be “Drop irritation and find a reason to celebrate them”.

You don’t need to carry around irritation about situations, no one wants to carry that through their day. The benefit for you is a lightness, a positive feeling and knowing you helped someone. All wonderful things.

The benefit for them

Can you remember a kindness that someone did for you? I can.

I remember the first kindness I was aware of. I was 7 and was 15 pence short on a comic and some sweets I wanted from the newsagent. The owner’s son said it didn’t matter and let me go without paying it. I still remember that kindness to this day.

Kindness changes everything. People contact support because they need to know something, because they need a roadblock removed. It is a vulnerable place to be, a combo of asking a stranger for help and not knowing something – feelings not many people like.

To be met with a genuine smile (Physical or digital) and kindness changes the dynamic not only of the support case, but potentially of that person’s day. I wrote about passionately desiring customers success in the last post, this kindness is just an extension of that. You not only influence that issue but potentially that day. The impact has the potential to be huge.

“You’re all so kind”

The second principle of great support is kindness. There isn’t enough kindness in the wider world, let alone in support. You don’t know what things have happened during the day of the person you are speaking to, but you are now a part of those events. Be kind, I think you’ll like the results.

The support I see #1 – Passionate about our customers succeeding

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” –Napolean Hill

Have you seen Coach Carter? The Mighty Ducks? The Blindside?

The underdogs who have never won anything who start to play and win as a team, the team that hates each other to start and then they grow to respect each other or the coach who discovers his or her true self by coaching this group of players.

Gold. Cinematic gold.

My wife disagrees slightly.

We watched Coach Carter when we were dating and I teared up at several points. Don’t listen to anyone who says real men don’t cry, they are silly and haven’t seen the actors of Coach Carter read a Marianne Williamson poem or the mighty ducks turn into a team and accept Gordon Banks from their hated rivals.


After Coach Carter finished all I could quietly say, voice cracking, was:

“I just know what it means to them”.

Dramatic isn’t it.

My favourite part of these films? The passion of the coaches to see their players succeed. They are not on the pitch but they equip, they cheer, they enable the players to find their talents and work as a team. The coaches are not the point, they are just enabling the team to go further.

Teamwork features later on the list, but this post is about cheering on. It’s about a passion for seeing someone else achieve great things and that being the reward.

Move on down the road

If all of our support came from a place not of duty, but of excitement to help someone else achieve we would have stronger companies, more fans for these companies and, I believe, be happier in our roles.

Easy right?

What if we saw our support like this – Our success is in the success of others.

The benefits of this thinking are huge.

– You learn to communicate well because you are so excited to help people understand what you are saying.
– The day is measured in people helped, not in minutes worked (or survived) or any other metric.
– That person has the potential to be successful with that information in the hours, days and weeks to come. Your work has an impact.

It doesn’t rely on people saying thank you, or an award. Having a positive impact on the journey is the motivator.

I think the saddest part of the support role is when it is seen just as a step to another team, or if “it’s Just a job”.

Customers can tell when you are in it for that reason alone – see every standup comedian sketch about calling a support helpline.

Don’t get me wrong and support is a wonderful way to launch into other things with knowledge of your customer base and the product. The Scott Berkun book ‘A year without pants’ talks about a “Support tour” – I love the idea of everyone having to come through support.
What I am saying is that a customer will 100% know if you are cheering for them, or if you are just trying to get through the day as quickly as possible.

Passion is not easy to fake, but it can be built. How do you measure success? In support, we can measure it in customer’s success and in them having a blocker moved right out of their way so they can do something wonderful. So they can move on down the road unhindered to where they were trying to get to.

You did that you big legend.